Boz Scaggs – The Essential Boz Scaggs (2013)

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Join Boz Scaggs as he discusses a few key cuts on the forthcoming two-disc Essential collection from Columbia Legacy — a 32-song set showcasing his timeless alchemy with soul, blues, rock and R&B.

Due on October 29, 2013, Essential traces Scaggs’ career from his 1969 debut through a chart-crashing period beginning in the middle 1970s that saw the singer-guitarist push 14 songs into the Hot 100, then on into late-period triumphs from 1997’s Some Change and this year’s Memphis.

Anthony DeCurtis, a Rolling Stone contributing editor, puts it all in perspective with some newly written liner notes.

Along the way, Scaggs had important career intersections with Steve Miller, Duane Allman and David Paich, the last of whom would become an important collaborator on Scagg’s smash studio effort Silk Degrees. Four hits from that album appear, including the ageless “Lido Shuffle,” as well as choice album cuts like “We’re All Alone.”

The musical relationship with Paich continues, as evidenced by the inclusion of two songs here from 2001’s Dig.

Elsewhere, Essential features “Hard Times” from 1977’s platinum effort Down Two and Then Left, two Top 20 hits from 1980’s Middle Man (“Breakdown Dead Ahead” and “JoJo”), and the Top 40 hit “Heart of Mine” from 1988’s Other Roads. There’s a live take on “As the Years Go Passing By” with Booker T. and the MGs, too.

In an exclusive SER Sitdown, Scaggs discusses a trio of this set’s favorites in “Lowdown,” “Loan Me a Dime” and “Miss Sun,” even as we dig deeper into Essential tracks originally found on Some Change and on Memphis

“MISS SUN” (HITS!, 1980): Just one of nearly a dozen songs co-written with David Paich, “Miss Sun” was a No. 14 hit in 1981, after it was originally included as the new track on Scaggs’ Hits! compilation. Paich, Jeff Porcaro and David Hungate had earlier worked on Scaggs’ breakthrough release, 1976’s Silk Degrees, before forming the band Toto with Bobby Kimball, Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather.

The Toto connection would continue for Scaggs. Lukather and Jeff Porcaro, for instance, appeared on Down Two Then Left and Middle Man. Toto, minus Kimball and Steve Porcaro, appears on “Miss Sun” as well. But it was Paich who would prove to be a key collaborator into the new century — co-writing five songs on Silk Degrees, as well as six tracks on 2001’s Dig — which provides “Miss Riddle’ and “I Just Go” for The Essential Boz Scaggs.

“We really hit it off,” Scaggs tells us. “I think that we really opened doors for each other. It was not a great secret in LA about those guys. They are just very powerful musical figures. You called it, though. David Paich is the single most important relationship I have in my musical career. He has given me so much. The work we have done subsequently is really important to me, as well. I still look for any opportunity to work with him.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Boz Scaggs stopped in to talk about touring with Dukes of September, his long layoff in the 1980s, and how he got his groove on in Memphis.]

“GONE BABY GONE,” (MEMPHIS, 2013): It’s clear something moved this group as they recorded in Memphis’ Royal Studio, where the late Willie Mitchell recorded Al Green and a host of other legends. “Gone Baby Gone” finds producer/drummer Steve Jordan and Co. adding a classic snare-driven, Al Jackson-inspired rhythm — active in direct counterpoint to Scaggs’ oh-so-smooth vocal.

Lester Snell’s swooning strings, so closely associated with the same era, also make “So Good To Be Here” a cushiony pillow for Scaggs’ ever more emotional and open vocal turns. He’s not exactly channeling Green’s sensuous cries, but Scaggs is certainly making a clear reference to them, adding to the intoxicating sense of reverie that opens Memphis.

For all of the urbane sophistication surrounding 1976’s five-times platinum Silk Degrees, it barely hinted at the vocal range Scaggs has today. Nobody can touch Green, even four decades later, for pure carnal rapture, but I’ll be damned if Scaggs doesn’t get right up to the edge of it.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Hurtling along with the same restless, furiously creative impetus as its subject, ‘Skydog’ highlights Duane Allman’s incredibly varied career.]

“LOAN ME A DIME,” with DUANE ALLMAN (BOZ SCAGGS, 1969): Recorded at Alabama’s now-legendary Muscle Shoals studio, with a group of sessions players that would also eventually become world famous, Boz Scaggs has a crackling, very improvisational feel. That led to forays not just into blue-eyed soul, R&B and blues, but even into country — making this a prototype of the Americana movement to come.

Fenton Robinson’s “Loan Me a Dime,” a torrid highlight which grew out of the album’s loose, music-focused sessions, is given an expansive reading — showcasing the powerful and yet sensitive work of the still-emerging Duane Allman, who had already impressed Scaggs with previous sideman gigs.

“The ones that came out of just being there were the Jimmy Rogers song ‘Waiting for a Train,’ and ‘Loan Me A Dime,’ which I brought with me but I didn’t really have any idea about the arrangement — and it was only at the last minute, when we were looking for a song,” Scaggs tells us. “The others, I had been writing and preparing for a while. We had some time left with the musicians, and I said, “well, there’s this song …,” and it went from there.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: We explored outside of ‘Silk Degrees’ in Boz Scaggs’ lengthy catalog, from his bluesier fare to one of those psychedelic Steve Miller sides to some boffo bossa nova.]

“SOME CHANGE” (SOME CHANGE, 1994): Scaggs reestablishes everything here that made him both the master of the 1970s lover-man ballad — and a completely underrated roots rocker. Scaggs actually started out digging that stuff, too. The story goes that Scaggs, growing up in Plano, Texas, heard T-Bone Walker’s “Blues for Mary Lee” on the radio — and he was hooked. Jimmy Reed and the big-band rhythm groups led by Ray Charles were key influences, it’s clear.

His first, rarely heard solo album even featured a 12-minute meltdown groover called “Loan Me a Dime” featuring Duane Allman. Over time, Scaggs slowly drifted into a listenable hybrid — something aptly described by Rolling Stone back then as “Southern blues sensibilities mixed with city soul.”

Some Change reanimates both impulses, combining the best of both worlds to become the strongest recording Scaggs had issued since Silk Degrees. So we get a rocking, rib-sticking roux of blues, R&B and soul like the title track — as heard here on The Essential Boz Scaggs — as well as “Sierra” and “Lost It,” which more directly recall the silky-smooth joys of his 1970s-era work.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Boz Scaggs joined Steely Dan svengali Donald Fagen and former Doobie Brothers frontman Michael McDonald for a summer tour that turned into a baby boomer rave up.]

“LOWDOWN,” (SILK DEGREES, 1976): A Grammy-award winning track for best R&B song, co-written with Toto’s Paich, “Lowdown” became Scaggs’ first major hit — going to No. 3 on the pop charts and No. 5 on both the R&B and now-defunct disco charts.

He’s put out more than a dozen albums since then, covering an amazing amount of musical ground, but much of Scaggs’ fanbase will always associate him with songs from Silk Degrees, especially “Lowdown.” Scaggs says he’s fine with that, though he occasionally tweaks their original arrangements to keep things fresh.

“I don’t think I’ll ever move beyond ‘Lowdown,’ as a song. It fits me,” Scaggs tells us. “The words resonate, the chords resonate, it’s right for my voice, it’s right for my approach. Some of those songs, I’ll just stay with. The Allen Toussaint song, ‘What Do You Want the Girl To Do,’ I still perform that. A song like ‘Lido,’ I can do it literally right off the record — which we do, with the Dukes of September — as an encore, and it still works. It feels good.”

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